The Abolition of Want

Want is infinite. That, anyway, is the American economic dogma. The first lesson I learned in Econ 110 was that want is like the receding horizon–ride faster, push harder, and wear out your life in its pursuit and, in the end, it does not matter. Strangely, want does not diminish with achievement or acquistion. I want a car. I get the car. Now, however, I find I want speakers for the car. When the speakers are installed, I need new paint–red, perhaps. By the time my vehicle is outfitted as I originally designed, I am busy seeking next year’s model.

Likewise, if want is at all proportional to wealth, it is directly so. We might suspect the opposite. If our desires could be satiated then we would imagine a world where the poor wanted more and the rich were content to have much. Instead, want circumscribes me as a circle of increasing size: the bigger it grows, the more I can see from the periphery. And, of course, I usually want what I can see. Sadly, then, as our acquisitions pile up we find our hunger grows proportionately.

There is something American about this restlessness. Indeed, Tocqueville observed our insatiable desire two-hundred years ago:

“Fortune awaits them everywhere, but not hapiness. The desire of prosperity has become an ardent and restless passion in their minds, which grows by what it feeds on…. Emigration was at first necessary to them; and it soon becomes a sort of game of chance, which they pursue for the emotions it excites as much as for the gain it procures.”

That is us. We relish not so much the acquisition as the excitement of the pursuit, the thrill of the game of chance, the perpetual emigration–we like the horizon to continue to withdraw before us.

Then again, do we relish the pursuit? Do we even enjoy it? Particularly when we mistake material wealth for the object and design of our existence, it seems we trick ourselves into thinking hapiness really does lie in the acquisition of something. We believe if we obtain more of this, or the latest of that, or the most impressive of those, we will surely be happy. Unavoidably, however, acquistion brings not hapiness, but emptiness–like drinking from a mirage. Despite the sand in our mouths, however, we set off through the desert toward the next apparent oasis, perpetually convinced of the reality of the water that awaits.

How do I escape this wearying, dry, and draining monotony? Perhaps the secret of abolishing want is the discovery that want only ends within. That is what Jacob taught:

“And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good–to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”

Redirection, not abolishment, is the final goal. We ought not do away with our want, but we must want different things. We learn in Ether:

“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God.”

In Christ our want turns two directions: outward and upward. On the one hand, we seek a better world here by doing the things Jacob describes. On the other, we seek exaltation as we ascend toward holier spheres.

Hugh Nibley described one way to see things as they really are. He asked us to imagine a man who is diagnosed with a terminal disease–as it turns out, this man has only a few weeks to live. Imagine the way this man would live his life. In a flash, his priorities would realign: the important would pale and the secondary would become vital. A few weeks later, however, the man returns to the doctor and is told the original diagnosis was wrong, he is going to be just fine. The reality never changed, but the man’s world-view is forever altered.

We needn’t face any such bleak prognosis to lift our eyes above the smog of pressing concerns. Alma taught those who “have…spiritually been born of God…look forward with an eye of faith…and [view] this corruption raised in incorruption.” By seeking God, by seeking grace, by doing all and recognizing our reliance on grace regardless, our gaze rises and turns outward and we find ouselves, as Elder Maxwell once observed (quoting G.K. Chesterton), “under freer skies, in a street full of splendid strangers.”

As we climb the anscendant path, we find oases scattered along the trail. These fountains, though, give living, sparkling, crystal water which refreshes us and prepares us for the ascents ahead. In the end, we find want has given way to hope, jealousy to contentment, and lust to love.

In the end, the difference between follwing Christ and following Mammon is not the intensity of our motivation, but the hapiness we find in the journey.

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Published in: on August 3, 2006 at 11:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

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